Lightbulb Oven underground din

This past Saturday, I attended an underground dinner — my first evah! Pardon me for the enthusiasm, I’ve never actually been a part of the process of learning about a private dinner, buying a seat for it and arriving to … who knows what?

Saturday’s gathering was hosted by Lightbulb Oven, aka cooking pro Sara. She’s a Star Canyon alum who worked alongside Stephan Pyles — not a bad way to get your start.

So it was with breathless anticipation that I walked through the picket-fence gate with my bottle of pinot greege and into the back yard where the undergrounding was just getting going. It felt like a secret only me and a handful of insiders knew about — wicked fun!

A handful of us spent the first hour awaiting the remaining guests and sipping the provided sangria and opening the wines and beers that guests had been encouraged to bring. As folks arrived and mingled, some snackies came around! First app was Stephan Pyles’ own Hell’s Eggs. These didn’t quite inspire thoughts of Hades, spice-wise, but they were plenty delicious, and I’m never gonna turn down a deviled egg, y’all!

Next app was a crostini topped with melted Camembert cheese and a dollop of plum jelly. Absolutely fabulous! People at my table raved …

And what a motley bunch — there were young-ish singles, some high school friends of the chef, marrieds with kids, and an out-of-this-world cool older couple that I sat next to. Soon, Hostess Sara rang the dinner bell, and we all got seated at the two picnic tables.

The first course was presented as a chilled red pepper soup with a crawfish “funnel cake” (above), but what I tasted was a bit different. I wanted more pepper flavor to it; sadly, it tasted a bit like jarred spaghetti sauce. And the crawfish fritter I was so excited about had no crawfish in it! No bueno. But maybe it was just me — my fellow diners sucked their soup down in, like, two minutes and talked about how much they loved it :)

The soup course turned out to be a minor stumble, as things improved by leaps and bounds with the arrival of the main dish, pork two ways. I never knew how much I loved non-Oscar Mayer-bacon pig …

Check out the aerial view of this plate: pork confit, rhubarb chutney, mustard, pork belly over corn puree, pickled blueberries and greens. Sara encouraged us to try everything in different combinations, and I did. I have never understood the fascination with pork belly, but thanks to this dinner, I get it. This piece of meat was lovingly rendered and the flavor sang when I paired it with the silken corn puree and plump blueberries. Meanwhile, the confit shreds melted in my mouth, it’s meaty flavor going nicely with the sweet chutney. The greens tempered the sweetness of the corn and chutney. This plate was phenomenal. Here, let’s take a closer look.


After the main dish plates were cleared, and as the sun finally began tucking itself into bed, we were served the palate cleanser in cute little glasses — a refreshing cucumber granita that definitely did the job.

The meal ended on a really high note. Dessert was a pillowy, berry syrup-soaked slab of challah bread topped with creme fraiche and berries of the season (!!!). Perfectly cool ending, in temperature and in execution — who knew something so simple could taste so grand?

One wonderful thing was that even after the dessert plates were cleared, folks stuck around to chat and mingle. In such a cozy setting, beneath strings of sparkly party lights, who wouldn’t want to stay? The wine and sangria continued to flow, why not? It sure reinforced a tremendous sense of community and feeling … well, local.

Saturday’s was the fourth local Lightbulb Oven dinner (Sara also hosted them when she lived in NYC!) and the chef’s first in her new home. She may as well set aside a permanent chair for me, because I see myself attending some more LBO meals.

To find out when the next Lightbulb Oven dinner is, become a fan of its page on Facebook! (And whilst you’re at it, go ahead and Like my page as well!)